Despite the diminutive proportions of Pozo Higuera, a hamlet near Lorca that lives off the land, its inhabitants are used to living on the edge. Half of its population of 600 live in the region of Murcia and the rest, in Andalucía.
Although there is a strong community spirit in Pozo Higuera (which literally translates as ‘fig tree well’), those who are divided by the border that slashes the tiny village in two are staunchly patriotic.
The roughly three hundred whose postal address is in the province of Almería feel very andaluz, whilst the others have a strong sense of being Murcian.
Even more surreal is the fact that those who have had to move house from one side of the village to the other – or to Lorca or Pulpí, the nearest village on the south side – lament how they miss their mother territory and bewail their homesickness, feeling displaced and rootless in their new region – even if this region is just half a kilometre away.
Both sides of the border live off indoor farming – that is, growing vegetables in greenhouses – and the village is famous for its flowers, which are said to be colourful, deliciously-scented and of a superior quality.
Yet there are many characteristics that separate the two halves of the town. Not so much that the southerners eat gazpacho and tapas whilst the northerners tuck into black pudding and michirones, but the fact that churchgoers, the sick, and children in Murcia have to go to Andalucía for worship, doctor’s appointments and school. Additionally, the andaluces pay 12 euros a year less for their car tax than the Murcian inhabitants.
There is potential for sparks to fly when general elections come up – fortunately, Pozo Higuera is one of the few towns in Spain that has two mayors, so divided loyalties are accounted for.
The problem comes when mayors from opposing political parties are voted into the same village – luckily, both sides of the border voted for the socialists this time around. Otherwise, there could be tugs of war over the immediate future of the municipality, with one wanting to build a motorway running past it and the other preferring the idea of a nature reserve.
At one time, most of Pozo Higuera’s babies were Andalucía-born, as the hospital at Huércal Overa in the north of Almería had a larger and better-equipped maternity department, although following the vast improvement in health services in the region of Murcia, the villages are now more likely to give birth in Lorca’s Rafael Méndez Hospital.
One woman from the Murcia side, who decided to give birth at home, was in her mother-in-law’s house in the Andalucía side when her waters broke. Only half in jest, she begged the relatives to take her back to her own house so that the child would be Murcian-born, like her, and not andaluz.
Then, of course, there are Pozo Higuera’s newlyweds - where each half of a couple is from a different side of the village, the one who has had to move across the border to live frequently sighs longingly and talks with wistful nostalgia about mi tierra, or their homeland, and their dreams of one day returning.
Even more bizarre is the case of the resident whose house sits directly on the border. He goes in through the front door, which is in Murcia, and goes to bed and takes a shower in Andalucía.
Francisco Rodríguez owns a bodega in the andaluz half where he sells Murcia wines. Most of his stock is from Jumilla, but says he also has a ‘marvellous Córdoba white’.“We live in a strange village,” says Francisco, unnecessarily. “We’re always on the telly.”
The regional borders extend to Francisco’s family, of course. He has two children, both of whom have never left the village in their lives, one of whom is Murcian and another, andaluz.
Finally, just in case inhabitants are unsure of which region to feel patriotic about, all they need to do is go to the village pub. The only bar in Pozo Higuera is conveniently named El Límite – you can be served at a bar in Andalucía and pop to the toilets in Murcia.
One thing is certain, however – the most talked-about village in south-eastern Spain is divided by geography only. A close-knit community, the people of Pozo Higuera even celebrate their individual regional fiestas together, the ‘outsiders’ joining in with enthusiastic abandon.
Let’s hope, though, that after the music and dancing stops and copious amounts of Jumilla and Córdoba wines from Francisco’s multi-cultural bodega have been drunk, the villagers remember to go home to the right region.